ANALYSIS: EMELDA MUSONDA
FOLLOWING the closure of churches due to the coronavirus pandemic, many pastors have proposed to their members the use of online platforms for returning tithe, and giving seeds and offerings.
One of the many churches that have advised people to use online platforms is Bread of Life Church International under Bishop Joe Imakando.
The stance taken by Bishop Imakando and other clergy to allow members to fulfil their financial obligations to the Church through online platforms in view of suspended church gatherings due to the COVID-19 has attracted some critique from some members of society.
Some members of society unsettled by the call to give online offerings have condemned the clergy, accusing them of abusing the flock.
Some members of the public who took to social media said it is insensitive and inconsiderate for the men of God to ask members to continue returning their tithes and giving offering considering that most of them, if not all, have not been spared by economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
A post from one of the social media platforms reads: “Can’t there be something like tithe and offering exemption during this period where also the Church can give back to people considering that people’s livelihoods have been affected negatively by Covid-19? Almost everything has ground to a halt.”
Critics have raised two issues. Is it okay for pastors to ask members to fulfil their obligations online when they are not meeting physically? And, secondly, is it right for pastors to ask for tithes and offerings from members at a time when most of them are grappling with economic effects of COVID-19?
The use of digital platforms to send tithes, offerings and other contributions to churches is not something new. Some congregants in churches are already doing that, though the practice may not be widespread as people are still adapting, especially the older generation. Needless to say, technological advancements have altered the way people interact and transact across various facets of life, and the Church is not exempt.
If churches have moved with technology to preach the gospel online, why shouldn’t they use the same platforms for other aspects of worship such as collection of tithes and offerings? There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing so.
The other concern is whether it is okay for pastors to ask members to give during a time of economic hardships. This is where the most agitation seems to be coming from for those opposed to the idea.
Firstly, it is important to understand that pastors asking congregants to return tithes and give offerings are basically relaying God’s commands, not their own wishes. This is because the Bible obligates believers to give towards the work of God.
In Exodus 35:4-5 God commanded the Israelites saying, “From what you have, take an offering for the Lord. Everyone who is willing is to bring to the Lord an offering of gold, silver and bronze…”
Verse 29 says: “All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the Lord freewill offerings for all the work the Lord through Moses had commanded.”
Malachi 3:10 commands believers to return a tenth of all their income to the House of the Lord. God considers those who fail to do so as daylight robbers. There are countless scriptures in the Bible which talk about a believer’s obligations to give.
From these scriptures it is clear that the idea of giving to the Church was not originated by man but God Himself. Like in the case of Israelites where He used Moses to communicate His agenda, pastors are mere conveyers of His message.
It is worth noting from above scriptures that while returning tithe and giving offerings is an obligation, God expects people to give out of a free will. The Bible says God loves a cheerful giver.
It is also clear from the scripture that every offering taken to the Church is unto the Lord, not man.
The Bible does not say that giving should only be done when one has abundance. The story of Elijah asking a widow who had almost nothing to prepare a meal for him shows that God demands giving even in difficult situations. And God’s principles of receiving blessings is anchored in giving (Luke 6:38). Imagine if the widow disobeyed God by insisting that she was not in a position to offer Elijah food, she would have missed the abundant blessing that followed. The widow in question could have been in a direr situation than some of those lamenting today.
It is in difficult times that one’s faith and love for God is put to test. Going by the principle God used in the case of the widow, it can also be said that recovery of some people from the coronavirus effects may be dependent on their sacrificial giving and state of heart during this time.
Needless to say, giving benefits the giver more than the beneficiaries because it is more blessed to give.
God understands that the Church has a lot of needs which need to be financed for it to run effectively. For instance, churches have to pay rentals, utility bills and salaries for workers. There are many churches that support widows and orphans though they may not announce such works. All these require the Church to be financially sound. For the Church to be effective in spreading the gospel, there is need for money.
However, God will not force anyone to give but expects people to do so willingly with an understanding that He is the source of every good thing. Each person is expected to give according to their measure of blessings.
Giving to the house of God does not allow one to fulfil God’s commands but activates blessings and one’s prayer altar.
It is not a secret that there are people who take money to shrines to promote wickedness. In the same way, for Christians to promote righteousness through sustained preaching of the gospel, they need to give. The impact of the Church on society, to a larger extent, depends on its financial muscle. How can the Church help the poor or contribute towards the fight against Covid-19 if it is financially incapacitated?
What is ironic is that it is okay for some people to spend money on alcohol and other non-beneficial activities during such a crisis and yet it is not good for one to give towards the work of God.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.